Nikon Coolpix S8100 review: Nikon Coolpix S8100

The last of the shooting modes is Subject Tracking, and the name pretty much says it all. Place the focus area box at the center of the frame on your subject, hit OK, and the camera will move the box with the subject. If the subject moves out of frame, the camera will do its best to pick up the subject when it reenters the frame. The camera can be set to focus once or continuously and it can prioritize tracking faces, but otherwise everything else is handled automatically. The mode mostly works as promised, but it should really just be an AF area option instead of a whole mode.

If you like to shoot close-ups, the S8100 has a few ways to enter Macro mode. It will automatically switch to it if you're using the Scene Auto Selector mode. You can also select a Close-up mode from the camera's Scene options. And if you're in Auto mode, you can switch to macro focus via the control pad. You can focus as close as 0.4 inch from your subject and the results are very good.

As for shooting performance, the S8100 is one of the fastest compact megazooms I've tested. It goes from off to first shot in just over 1 second with a typical shot-to-shot time of 1.5 seconds. Using the flash only bumps that up to 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag is low in both bright and dim lighting, 0.4 and 0.7 second, respectively. Lastly, its full-resolution high-speed continuous mode is capable of 10fps, but again only for five shots.

Aside from all the features and performance, the camera is nice-looking and easy to use, too. Available in black, red, and gold, the S8100 is compact given its 10x zoom lens, and it's one of the slimmest in its class. That's likely because of the smoothly flared lens surround, which is somewhat out of step with the camera's otherwise boxy design. It's attractive, though, and will fit easily in a pants pocket or small handbag. The metal casing makes it feel high-quality, but I wish there was more than a slight ridge on the front of the camera to help with your grip. If there is one big problem with the design it's the flash. It pops up from the left side, so it's easily blocked by fingers when it rises and then leaves you little room to grip the camera once it's up. Fortunately, it only pops up when needed.

The controls and menu system are fairly uncomplicated, so out-of-the-box shooting shouldn't be much of a problem. The menu system is broken into three tabs: Shooting, Movie, and Setup. The layout keeps you from doing too much hunting through settings. And thanks to the high-resolution screen, menus are nice-looking, sharp, and easy to read. The LCD gets reasonably bright as well, so you shouldn't struggle too much when framing shots in bright direct light. It's great for playback to boot.

A mode dial sits on top for quickly changing your shooting mode. On the back, a large thumb rest separates the screen from a record button for movies; there is no standalone movie mode you have to switch to in order to shoot video. Below that is a playback button and a four-way control pad/wheel with an OK button in its center (Nikon calls it a Rotary Multi Selector), and then there are Menu and Delete buttons at the very bottom. The control pad is used for menu and image navigation as well as setting the self-timer, adjusting flash and exposure compensation, and turning on macro focus. Should you want to move more quickly through menus, images, and videos, you can spin the wheel instead of doing single presses with underlying control pad. Although it moves easily, you can feel stops.

The S8100 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for a measly 210 shots; this was supported in testing, though it was a mix of stills and movies. Plus, the camera doesn't give you a battery life reading until it needs to be recharged. The battery is charged in the camera by connecting via USB to a computer or the included wall adapter. The battery and card compartment are on the bottom behind a locking door. Next to it is a Mini-USB/AV port. A covered Mini-HDMI port is on the right side of the camera for connecting to an HDTV or monitor; you'll need to buy a cable, though.

In the end, I'm considerably more impressed by the S8100 than I was by its predecessor, the S8000. It's very competitive in price, features, and performance with other compact megazooms with BSI CMOS sensors, and its low-light photo quality is much improved over the S8000--even if these improvements rely on some high-speed shooting and digital manipulation.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Nikon Coolpix S8100
Samsung HZ35W
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7

Typical continuous-shooting speed in fps
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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